This weekend, my job had me going to a site up in Columbia Gateway, a sprawling, depressing office colony in Howard County. It is an intimidatingly isolated, desolate, oppressing void of a place. I grew furious trying to figure out which anonymous LeCorbuseurian complex housed the site where I was meeting my colleagues. It was a very depressing landscape, and I couldn't wait to leave.
Then it dawned on me that thousands of people work here every day.
Columbia Gateway. Photo by Howard County
I find my self oppressed by the traffic-choked pedestrian-hazardous landscape of Laurel Lakes, and I am doing everything in my power to move. But push comes to shove, I can walk to the store. If someone is causing problems in my neighborhood, it will be noticed and police will be called. Those police shouldn't have too much problem finding the suspects. It is Lower Manhattan compared to Columbia Gateway (except they have the skyscrapers up there).
Perhaps I am ruminating on the concept too much. I may be reading too much James Howard Kuntsler. But then CNN illustrated human's desire for beautiful and memorable settings. The visual stimulation of the beautiful planet in the hit film Avatar is striking people on such a level that going back to the cul-de-sacs, drive-thru fast food joints, and office parks of reality has caused them depression.
I have not seen Avatar yet, but I plan to do so soon after reading the CNN article. I know the symptoms. I was a little depressed when I returned from my two months in Europe, having seen such awe-inspiring places as the Abbey at Fauntevrault, the American Cemetary in Luxembourg, Heidelburg Castle, Chateau Vianden, the Ardennes Forest, Die Bergstrasse, the Amsterdam canals, and Chateau d'Angers and then returning home to the billboard littered landscapes of Route 1 in Laurel. Fortunately, I go to downtown Silver Spring, Clarendon, H Street, Hyattsville, Chinatown, or one of the DC area's many other great places, and I get over it. They may not be on par with the beauty and sense of places as the Abbey at Fauntevrault, but they are memorable places designed for enjoyment of people.
Perhaps the visual magnificence of Avatar is so otherworldly beautiful and James Cameron has accomplished something truly profound. I'll let you know after I watch it. But perhaps many Americans are already depressed by their lack of access to truly beautiful places, and Avatar simply defined that their need for such places that was already festering inside them.